Sunday, November 29, 2009


This last week has been very busy for us. On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving with all the new trainees, our group of volunteers here in Ha'apai, and the Peace Corps staff that's been here for training. In all I think there were around 50 of us. With so many people, we did a potluck meal, and had 4 turkeys and a roasted pig. Brett and I made apple crisp (there just happened to be apples in Pangai a week ago so we bought lots), and banana bread. Others did stuffing, potatoes and sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, salad, green bean casserole, biscuits, and more. Here's a photo of the new group of volunteers (plus Phil) that we took at our Thanksgiving meal. They leave their homestays this coming Friday, then stay with current volunteers for attachment over the weekend to see what volunteer life is like. We'll have a married couple staying with us. Then the new group of volunteers will swear in and move in to their sites, before Christmas.
We've also had a lot of gatherings lately for Phil and Aki, who are both finishing up their 2-year service here in Ha'apai. After our big Thanksgiving feast we had a feast the next day at Brett's school for both of them, along with the kids perfoming some dances. Then a party at Mariner's cafe, with some great food, drinks, and of course karoake since it was a Friday night.
And tonight we're having a dinner at our place for Phil before he leaves tomorrow morning. Since not all of our friends in town were with us for Thanksgiving this is also kind of a post-Thanksgiving feast - with stuffing, potatoes, etc. again. And we decided instead of turkey to have a Tongan chicken, they taste pretty good- a leaner kind of meat. At first Brett was going to chase and kill a chicken on his own with a sling shot, but then decided to just get it from one of his teachers at school. So today we went to the catholic church service, it was a special service for the kids and had really pretty singing, and even some readings in English. Then after the service his teacher brought us a box with a chicken in it, he wasn't sure if it was dead yet so had a string tied to it's legs in case it tried to fly away. We biked back with the box, and realized in fact it was not dead yet. We weren't sure how we felt about killing it or how to kill it, so had our friend Brian kill it (he just ripped the head right off). Then our neighbors helped us pluck all the feathers, and gut the chicken.

It's sad to see our friends leave, who we've spent this past year with. It won't be the same without them here, but we're also looking forward to the new group of volunteers that will be living here with us. Some things I'll miss from Aki and Phil - learning japanese words from Aki and how it's the rabbit in the moon and not the man in the moon in Japan, and hearing about Phil being chased by dogs and throwing his umbrella in fury, and sharing the fish he's speared for meals. It's funny how many different types of people we've met on our small island here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Familiar Sounds

The noises of Tonga here in Ha'apai have become familiar to us. We sleep in later, not being awoken anymore by the ever-crowing roosters, grunting pigs, and many loud dog fights. Around 6:00am or so the neighbor kids spill out of their house, yelling, crying, singing songs, banging on any piece of metal they find. We used to yell "quiet!" at them through the louvre windows, but now just roll over and fall back asleep. We also hear our sima vai gushing out water in the early morning hours just outside the bedroom window, everyone on our housing compound uses our sima vai tank for drinking water because it's the cleanest. On Sunday mornings we hear church bells quietly in the distance, and the rythmic deep resonating sound of the Church of Tonga wooden drums, all calling people to the morning church services. Soon afterwards, we can hear the church choirs and congregations singing, all accapella. Some of the tunes are familiar from English church songs, but all the words are sung in Tongan. At church, the ministers shout out their sermons to the congregations. Every other morning instead of church music we hear the neighbor's radio blaring out traditional Tongan songs, old American songs, Christmas music sometimes mixed with odd songs like rap or the Macarena, or news mostly in Tongan (with about 10 minutes a day of English news). And so our day begins.

Walking through town during the day we often hear kids yelling "Nio, Nio!" (Brett's Tongan name), many of the local kids know him from school. Once in awhile someone will yell out my name, usually we don't know who all the people are that are calling out to us, they know us because we're the foreigners in town. Sometimes we'll still get Tongans yelling out "palangi!" (white person), and Brett will respond back "Tongan, Tongan"! Kids will also yell "Bye!" as we walk by - not understanding that it's not correct in English to just say bye as people pass by. We'll usually respond with something in Tongan if they do this. As we walk down the middle of the roads, we can hear cars approaching from far off and move to one side of the road. We also usually notice the sound of the plane coming in once or twice a day. If the DVD store is open near our house, they always blare really loud music to make sure people know that they are open. In fact, at any local events the music is always at the loudest possible level.

During the afternoons and evenings the sounds in our house are Brett playing his guitar, he's learned many new songs since being here. The oldest neighbor boy is trying to learn guitar now too. We'll often have lots of kids and dogs running through our house in the afternoons, so lots of noise again. Sometimes we'll shut the door to keep them all out, and play music or movies on the computer. Even then there are still little noises inside the house - the little mokos (geckos) that live inside on the ceiling and walls make little chirping noises, almost like a bird. One of my favorite sounds here are the waves breaking on the beach onto all the loose shells and coral peices, kind of a swishing noise as the waves pull the shells back and forth. From our beach we also hear the Pulapaki twice a week, the only ferry boat now that brings all the supplies to us here in Ha'apai. We can hear the engines of the boat coming into the wharf from our house. Later in the evenings we hear a steady, low voice calling out "", calling the pigs to come and eat. Every Tongan calls his pigs this way, every pig knows it's owner's voice and comes to that sound to eat the coconuts that are being cut open.

At night things quiet down. We hear the waves crashing louder now on the beach. And anytime anyone tries to approach the property we hear all the dogs going crazy, barking outside. The barking goes in a line, passed from dog to dog up and down the street. Some nights we hear the men at the kava club singing, just in front of our house a few hundred yards. Once in awhile they have a couple of guitars as well. Other nights we can hear one of the church choirs practicing, singing in unison perfectly, almost fooling me into thinking it's the radio. I can never pick out what they're singing, but it's always pretty. Tomorrow night one of the church schools is having a candle light singing procession of Christmas carols. And now as I finish this post, I can hear a church choir practicing somewhere off in the distance, and echoes of dogs barking up and down the street.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Typical School Day

It's 8:30am and the bell rings, the children line up at the flag pole in lines by class. The girls are wearing red dresses and white shirts. They have their hair in braids with red ribbons holding them together. The boys wear khakis shorts and white shirts. They sing their national anthem as the flag rises. Once they are finished the principal addresses them about the day and what jobs are to be done before the school day begins. Once dismissed they march off to the classroom where it will be swept and set up by the students before the day starts. The children who are late to school must wait by the gate before they are allowed onto the school grounds. Some days the principle will hit them and tell them not to be late again, some days they will get off easier. Once the classroom is swept and set up the students line up outside and wait for permission from their teacher to enter the classroom. Usually they are let in right away but if the teacher is lazy or in deep conversation with the other teachers the children can sometimes wait awhile before entering the classroom. The classroom consists of old country school desks and benches. Each student has a cubby where they keep their notebooks and pens, no textbooks are given out because no textbooks exist in the schools. Students perform a lot of copying from the blackboard to get information and also do a lot of writing activities to practice. If they misbehave or get questions to answers wrong they get hit. Usually they are struck on the hand by a wooden stick no wider than 2-3 fingers. Most students are unfazed by this, but some cry at times. Tongan students are constantly hitting each other, and when a teacher does it it's no different. I do not hit the students in my classes. I use many classroom management techniques to help control the pace and environment of the classroom. I have tried to teach these techniques to my counterparts, but they are still in favor of hitting.

When the students enter the classroom school is started. They begin with English for an hour, this is where I step in. I usually start off introducing the daily lesson and then make my way into a fun activity to get their attention. I am usually in the classroom for 60-90 minutes. At around 10:30 the bell rings for recess and the students race outside. Locals arrive early to sell the students cake and ice pops. The students play and eat treats for 30 minutes before class begins again. The children also are allowed to come to the library during recess time to check out books or to just find a book and read quitly in the reading area. I supervise the library as class 6 students reshelf books and offer assistance to students with new books. Once recess is over students return to their classrooms and start on their Tongan, Math, and Writing. Some days they listen to a radio program that is broadcasted across the country that covers lessons in all subjects. There are activities that are done to go with the radio broadcast and at times teachers will make up lessons to go along with the radio lesson. I tend to bounce around the school during this time helping teachers with lessons and activities they are doing. At 12:30 the bell rings and the students make their way home for lunch. Some students will stay and play at school during lunch break, but most will go home.

At 1:30 they all return and class begins. Science and Health are covered from 1:30 - 3:20, and sometimes I am allowed to bring students outside for gym. We play rugby, soccer or netball. Most of the kids like soccer so that is the sport of choice most of the time. At about 3:00 students from classes 4, 5, and 6 are called out of class to pick up rubbish around the school yard and then burn it in the burn pile behind the bathrooms. Other students are assigned to cleaning the bathrooms and washing the windows around the school. Every student gets a turn at this and there is no one who gets away with not doing these chores. There is no funding for janitors and the teachers refuse to do any cleaning so it falls on the students to pick up the slack. Once they are done they return to the classrooms where school is dismissed at 3:20 and the students stream out of the classrooms and to all places around town.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Videos - Tongan dance

This is a ta'alunga dance, done by young unmarried girls. It's mostly hand movements, and the whole time their knees are bent. All the motions translate the words of the songs. During the dances people come up and put money on the dancers, the girls are covered in coconut oil. It's a type of fundraiser, this one was for Brett's school. Many times people will also be dancing behind the dancers, showing support for them.

This is an example of some of the dances the boys/men do here in Tonga. These dances are much faster paced than the ta'alunga dance the girls do. They often have drums in the music, and wear these grass leaf skirts. There are also some sitting dances the guys do. The dance in this video was from a performance when the US Navy was here on their humanitarian mission.

Dances (koniseti) are big fundraisers here at events or feasts. But then they play more modern music between the traditional dances, so it's funny to watch a dressed up ta'alunga dancer switch to "la bamba" after her dance is done.

Sorry the clips are so short, but it takes a long time to upload large video files here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ha'apai Halloween

Happy Halloween! We celebrated this year with a costume party bonfire on the beach by the graveyard, right near our house. It was actually a pretty busy day - early in the morning all the Peace Corps volunteers here participated in the breast cancer awareness walk. Then we joined the new group of volunteers on a day trip to Ha'ano island where Grant lives. We got to spend a little more time talking with some of them, and getting to know the new volunteers that will be coming here to Pangai, it seems like a good group. And later in the evening we had our Halloween party, with the current volunteers and our friends in town here. Good times.

More new photos are posted in our Picassa photo album to the right.